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  • Writer's picturePeter Searle

Choosing an IT system for your contracting business

IT systems and packages can be a minefield for a contracting business. It is essential to know the numbers for the business to be successful. I have found that many contracting businesses do not have an IT strategy for keeping track of all the information which impacts upon the numbers. Initially they make do with applications they know then realise this is not working and start looking for a solution, hoping to find something which will work for them.    

IT strategies should develop in line with the growth of a business. However, having the long-term size of the business in mind and who might be the ideal person to be using the systems as the business grows will help with developing a strategy. 

At the “establishment” and “set up” stage of a business, packages which people have used before or are recommended to them by their advisors, such as their accountant are used to get going. A M.S. Office package for business and a cloud based accounting package such as Xero or QuickBooks are the first things to be obtained. These packages are generic to all businesses and have no specific contracting bias. In the early days setting up spreadsheets to get some order into the business and being able to repeat tasks using templates suffices and it is where a business will stay if they don’t intend to grow. To use a contracting analogy, it’s a bit like the groundworker who never progresses beyond having a shovel and a wheel-barrow. 

Using the same analogy, a groundworker that is growing has a couple of options. They can get a machine that is versatile, which can do some digging and move materials, like the infamous JCB 3C or they can start to use tracked excavators, loading shovels and other specialist machines for the various activities. The choice depends upon the market segment they are operating in. Working for a developer doing just a few plots, a JCB will suffice, but for anything larger specialist equipment is the most economic option. 

The choice of options out there when moving from MS Office and an accounts package is vast. If the business owner decides to take the “JCB 3C” route, and get a package that is an all rounder then they are likely to choose a package that integrates with their existing accounts package so its saves re-entering data. Such packages typically selected are: 

  1. BuilderTrend 

Whilst these packages offer solutions which appear to solve all the issues, they each suit different business types more closely so selecting one can be problematic, if a business is not clear what it requires. 

The other alternative is to select separate packages which align with the job functions in a contracting business. Using the ground worker analogy it’s like choosing which piece of specialist plant to use, a 5 tonne Excavator or a 20 tonne one. Typically, the accounts package stays as Xero or QuickBooks and the software packages for the functions will be: 


  • For lead generation and marketing there are numerous tools. Once a business is of a size where the spreadsheet list is not working then they are likely to be using an external provider and they will recommend packages. 


  • Businesses should have an external consultant for H&S and they will recommend or provide as part of the service a package for monitoring safety and producing the required documents. 



QS for CVR’s 


Site records 

Document control 


The packages can be stand alone or some integration can occur but generally there is a manual intervention. As not every project is secured, tenders which are lost are not entered into other software used for other stages and the system is kept lean. 

At some point a business might start to scale up, it have more offices and people entering financial data. Whilst the specialist software for the different functions can deal with numerous projects, accounts packages such as Xero might start to struggle. Xero's invoicing was designed to handle no more than 2,000 total invoices per month, containing 5 – 10 line items per invoice. It’s at this point a more robust accounts system is required and a business should move to an Enterprise management system, ERP. If you are at this stage, you will have the resources internally to decide which is best for you. If however, you are taking your first steps with improving your IT systems and would like to review your system with a view to improving them, and establishing what processes you require, please contact me for an no obligation discussion.  

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